This blog article reviews how to approach the topic of coronavirus with children. As a parent during the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s no avoiding the topic of conversation with your kids. News about the virus is everywhere, and children of all ages are feeling the effects. With school closures, event cancellations, quarantine fears and unusual work-from-home policies, your kids may be asking some tough questions.
Here are a few strategies to help you filter the information and talk about COVID-19 in a way your kids can understand.
- Don’t be afraid to discuss the coronavirus. Explain the situation simply. Most children will have already heard about the virus or seen people wearing face masks, so parents shouldn’t avoid talking about it. Not talking about something can actually make kids worry more. Look at the conversation as an opportunity to convey the facts and set the emotional tone. Your goal is to help your children feel informed and get fact-based information that is likely more reassuring than whatever they’re hearing from their friends or on the news.If your child seems worried or expresses confusion about what’s going on, it’s important to address their concerns in a way they can understand. Try to explain the situation in simple terms. How you talk about COVID-19 will vary based on the age of your child or teen. Try these age-specific tips to make sure you’re addressing their worries in a helpful way.
- Monitor News Exposure. As with any crisis or national emergency, limiting exposure to media and other sources of stress can help keep the situation from becoming overwhelming. At all times, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a limit of 2 hours of recreational screen time. When there are disturbing images or disturbing information, screen and media access should be limited further. For young children, be sure and keep an eye on the news they are exposed to. Keep them away from frightening images and videos on the news, social media, etc. Older children may benefit from talking about what they’re seeing and hearing on the news. Ask them how they feel about what is going on and be sure to clear up any misinformation or rumors.
- Be developmentally appropriate. Don’t volunteer too much information, as this may be overwhelming. Instead, try to answer your child’s questions. Do your best to answer honestly and clearly. It’s okay if you can’t answer everything; being available to your child is what matters.
- Take your cues from your child. Watch for signs of anxiety. Invite your child to tell you anything they may have heard about the coronavirus, and how they feel. Give them ample opportunity to ask questions. You want to be prepared to answer (but not prompt) questions. Your goal is to avoid encouraging frightening fantasies.Children, especially those of a young age, may not have the words to express their fears and worries. However, you may notice changes in mood, sleep difficulties or other signs that your child is feeling stressed. Try to stick to your normal routines and sleep schedules as best you can, even if confined to your home. Give anxious kids plenty of reassurance and support.
- Deal with your own anxiety. If you notice that you are feeling anxious, take some time to calm down before trying to have a conversation or answer your child’s questions.
- Be reassuring. Children are very egocentric, so hearing about the coronavirus on the news may be enough to make them seriously worry that they’ll catch it. It’s helpful to reassure your child about how rare the coronavirus actually is (the flu is much more common) and that kids actually seem to have milder symptoms.Children always look to their parents for help when they’re scared, and COVID-19 will be no exception. Remind them that doctors around the world are doing everything they can to keep everyone safe from the virus. It doesn’t help to pretend like the crisis is not happening, so avoid the temptation to put on a façade for your children. However, be reassuring and optimistic to help calm their fears. Comfort your kids and let them know you’re here for them, no matter what.
- Focus on what you’re doing to stay safe. An important way to reassure kids is to emphasize the safety precautions that you are taking. We know that the coronavirus is transmitted mostly by coughing and touching surfaces. The CDC recommends thoroughly washing your hands as the primary means of staying healthy. So remind kids that they are taking care of themselves by washing their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds (or the length of two “Happy Birthday” songs) when they come in from outside, before they eat, and after blowing their nose, coughing, sneezing or using the bathroom.
- Stick to routine. This is particularly important if your child’s school or daycare shuts down. Make sure you are taking care of the basics just like you would during a spring break or summer vacation. Structured days with regular mealtimes and bedtimes are an essential part of keeping kids happy and healthy.
- Keep talking. Tell kids that you will continue to keep them updated as you learn more. You can say, “Even though we don’t have the answers to everything right now, know that once we know more, mom or dad will let you know, too.”
- Keep Calm. First and foremost, take a deep breath and know that you can do this. I know it’s a stressful time but as parents, it’s important for us to keep a level head for the sake of our children.
If you are calm and cautious, your kids will be calm and cautious.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself, too. Follow this psychologist’s advice for ways to cope with the stress and uncertainty.
- Play fun at-home activities. Playing games, working a puzzle and cooking a meal together are great ways to stay active and occupied while at home. Now is the time to get creative!
- Teach Healthy Habits. Use this opportunity to teach proper hand hygiene and healthy habits that can help prevent the spread of germs. Make sure you and your children are following CDC guidelines to protect your family, including:
- Frequent hand washing. This means 20 seconds of contact with soap and water. Learn more about proper hand washing technique from the CDC.
- Avoid sharing drinks or food.
- Avoid touching the face.
- Cough and sneeze into a tissue or your elbow.
- Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces often — and explain to your kids how that helps prevent germs.